Pumice stone from volcanoes in Micronesia appears on Taiwan shores

While the densely populated west coast of Taiwan braces itself for the onslaught of whatever latest genetic variant arrives at international airports, residents on the east coast are embracing the arrival of floating rocks you can use to scrub your pots and pans.

Pumice stone from recent eruptions in the Ogasawara Islands has started to wash up on the coasts of eastern and southern Taiwan, after causing havoc for coastal shipping in parts of Japan.

Undersea volcanoes in the Japanese territory have produced a vast amount of the floating pebbles in recent months, clogging up ports in Okinawa, parts of Kyushu, and floating as far north as Tokyo.

Governor of Okinawa, Denny Tamaki, said the mass of solidified volcanic foam had a “huge impact on the fisheries and tourism industries as well as the environment,” according to a report in The Guardian.

Around 40 fishing boats were damaged, and ferry services in Japan’s southernmost island chain were temporarily suspended, the report noted.

Japanese researchers, in October, predicted that ocean currents would carry masses of pumice to coasts of Taiwan and the Philippines via the Kuroshio current. Miyama Toru at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology released a simulation October 28 that predicted the pumice would reach the Batanes island group between the Philippines and Taiwan around November 20.

Computer simulations of drifting pumice.

Japan media outlet NHK confirmed the arrival of the pumice in the Batanes November 25.

Taiwan’s Fisheries Institute warned maritime operators of the pumice masses several days ago, as the floating stones spotted drifting in the Kuroshio current via satellite imagery were spotted near Green Island.

Various Taiwanese media outlets used images of the floating surge clogging ports in southern Japan to frighten people.

satellite image showing drifting pumice stone east of Taiwan in the Kuroshio current
Sentinel 1 radar satellite showing volcanic pumice masses east of Taiwan, November 20.

The Oceanic Affairs Council (OAC) reported today that coast guard personnel had recorded the drifting stones at 16 locations on the eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan. The OAC notified the Department of Fisheries and Port Bureau to inform vessels entering and exiting ports to be aware of the situation and pay attention to navigational safety.

Indigenous Taiwanese on Orchid Island and Taiwan’s east coast attested to the usefulness of the stones in a report on TITV News. The larger ones are particularly prized, and are called “palih” in the local lingo.

It seems it’s not the first time pumice has landed in Taiwan.

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